Posted 10/23/13 (Wed)
By Neal A. Shipman
North Dakota officials have long touted that the state’s rules and regulations that govern the oil and gas industry are some of the best in the nation. That may very well be. But, considering that after a Tesoro pipeline developed a leak on Sept. 29 and pumped over 20,000 barells of oil into a Tioga wheat field, state officials seemed to be awfully slow in getting the news out to the public.
Granted that particular pipeline, which transfers oil north from the Tioga area to a rail loading facility near the Canadian border, is under the regulatory authority of the U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), North Dakota citizens still need to know that this type of pipeline failure occurred. And the public, in particular the local law enforcement agencies, news media and those residents who live in the vicinity of the spill, should have been immediately contacted.
Whether or not that announcement comes from a federal or a state agency is a moot point. It is irresponsible and speaks very poorly of our governmental regulatory agencies when it takes nearly two weeks for residents to learn about the spill.
Accidents in the oil field, while not all that common, are nothing that the state should take lightly. After all, when there is a failure on a well site or along a pipeline, a lot of very bad things can happen very quickly.
For those of us that live in the “oil patch,” we know all too well what happens when there is a rupture in a saltwater pipe that dumps thousands of gallons of highly toxic saltwater into our ponds, creeks and rivers; or when a blowout at a well site that spews thousands of gallons of chemicals across our wheat fields; or now when a pipeline leak leaves a Tioga farmer’s field not farmable for years to come.
And we know that as more and more pipelines are plowed into the ground that carry not only oil, but natural gas, salt water and other material, the chance of leaks or accidents will grow exponentially. Likewise, as more and more wells are drilled and these wells are located next to farmsteads, rural homes or even next to city limits, the question that needs to be answered by state officials is who in Bismarck is watching out for the safety of the people of North Dakota?
Is it the State Health Department that should be responsible for monitoring all of the pipelines, even those that are under federal regulation? Or should it be the State Industrial Commission?
When any type of accident happens, there is always a cry that the government needs to provide more oversight of an industry. Sometimes those cries are unfounded as accidents sometimes just happen. But in this particular pipeline spill, the cry for better oversight is obviously justified. The PHMSA wasn’t obviously doing its job of oversight and Tesoro wasn’t obviously maintaining the pipeline as it should have been.
And if the federal regulatory agency isn’t going to do its job and private companies are shirking away from properly maintaining their systems, it falls on our state government to step in and create its own monitoring system.